Summer, sun, holidays – millions of Germans have opened the long-awaited grilling season. However, the plans of the German Nutrition Society may spoil the appetite for many. According to the Bild newspaper, it has in its possession excerpts from a yet to be adopted document on a new food strategy, according to which Germans will be asked to reduce meat consumption to 10 grams per day. Or, in other words, eat no more than one sausage per month.
The federal government’s new nutrition strategy is due for discussion in June. In particular, it may include new recommendations from the German Nutrition Society. As for meat, so far the Germans have been advised to consume no more than 600 grams per week and, if possible, observe vegetarian days. According to statistics, every German burgher today eats an average of 109 grams of meat per day: 50 grams of sausages, 40 grams of red meat and 19 grams of poultry meat.
The message about the new recommendations for the consumption of meat appeared in the publication food newspaper. “It’s crazy and impossible,” Ekhard Heuser, director of the Dairy Industry Association, told Bild newspaper. In theory, no one is required to adhere to the directive as such. But in practice, the same canteens can force you to do this under the threat of canceling some important certificate. “But if you can’t get a currywurst at the canteen anymore, you’ll go to the store in front of it for chips,” Heuser sneers.
Lowest meat consumption in 30 years
In the meantime, and without new recommendations, Germans are already eating less meat. In 2022, its consumption fell to the lowest level on record. According to preliminary data Federal Information Center for Agriculture, in 2022, on average, each resident of Germany ate 52 kg of meat. This is about 4 kg less than the previous year. Speaking of preferences, Germans most often eat pork – in 2022 it accounted for more than half of all meat consumed. This is followed by poultry – 12.7 kg, and beef – 8.7 kg per capita per year. Most meat is eaten in Bavaria, and least in Rhineland-Palatinate.
But is it important to eat meat at all? It has been scientifically proven to provide the body with all the important nutrients. It contains about 22 percent of biologically valuable animal proteins, essential amino acids that the human body cannot produce on its own, iron, zinc, selenium and B vitamins, as well as collagen and elastane, useful for ligaments and joints. At the same time, according to Statista, in 2022, about 9 million Germans did not eat meat and called themselves vegetarians – this is half a million more than a year earlier. Why are more and more people refusing this useful product?
Price hikes and image problems
One of the reasons, according to the director of the Meat Industry Association Heike Harstik (Heike Harstik), is the rise in prices. According to statistics, in 2022 the price of meat has risen worldwide. In Germany, by about 14.5 percent. At the same time, poultry prices increased the most – by 23 percent compared to the previous year. “It’s clear that this kind of inflation affects buying behavior,” Harstik said in an interview with dpa.
Another factor is that the meat industry, and especially the pig industry, suffers from image problems. In recent years, a lot of negative reports have appeared in the media and social networks about the conditions of keeping animals and the underestimation of wages for workers in meat processing plants, which could also affect the situation.
Along with this, people are clearly striving to lead a healthier lifestyle, part of which is the reduction or complete elimination of meat consumption and the transition to plant foods. According to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture, about 58 percent of the grain grown in Germany ends up in feeders for pigs and cattle. By reducing the number of animals, more grain could be available for export to countries in need.
A decrease in the number of livestock and poultry could also mitigate the negative environmental consequences of industrial animal husbandry: reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the presence of nitrates in groundwater, deforestation for pastures, etc.
Are Meat Substitutes Really Healthy?
The choice of meat alternatives has grown exponentially in recent years. Supermarkets with multi-meter shelves filled with meat-free products – tofu sausages, veggie burgers and schnitzels and many others – are found on every corner in German cities. And their range is replenished with new items almost every week. At the same time, the production of meat substitutes in Germany has not yet been put on stream. Their market share is about two percent. However, demand is growing rapidly and production is expanding. According to the Federal Statistical Office, about 98 thousand tons of meat substitute products were produced in Germany in 2021, and the number of product items increased by 17 percent compared to the previous year.
In addition to the benefits for the environment, climate and animal welfare, manufacturers claim that meat substitutes are healthy because they are high in protein and low in fat, rich in vitamins and valuable substances. Can these statements be trusted?
Numerous studies show that eating large amounts of meat can have negative health effects. After evaluating more than 800 scientific studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has linked high consumption of red meat and sausages with an increased risk of colon, prostate and pancreatic cancer. In turn, the World Health Organization believes that replacing meat with plants is definitely advisable from a medical point of view. For example, a vegetarian schnitzel contains more so-called “good fats” – unsaturated fatty acids that are good for health – than the original one.
However, this does not automatically mean that new replacement products improve the balance of health. According to nutrition experts from the Consumer Advice Center in Berlin (Verbraucherzentrale), substitute products often contain more salt than comparable meat products. In addition, they often include additives, thickeners, antioxidants and stabilizers. In this case, it is difficult to talk about the nutritional value and health benefits of plant-based meat substitute products. Many nutrition experts advise against eating these foods more than once or twice a week, and, as with other industrial foods, carefully review the list of ingredients and nutritional information. Well, those who want to be absolutely sure of what they eat can cook their own plant-based alternative to meat. For example, a vegetarian “sausage” at home is easy to make from boiled chickpeas, gelatin and beetroot juice.
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